This is a case study of a reputation management campaign that provided justice for one executive that was wrongfully attacked by the media. It is a prime example of how the power of the Internet can be recklessly abused, and it provides an excellent defense for the practice of online reputation management (ORM) – restoring balance in the lives of the innocent people affected by online bullying.
Overview – Attacked in the Media
The client is a top executive at a multi-billion dollar firm. At the time we had our first conversation, we were gutted by the turn of events that landed him in such a dire situation. We were angry for him and we were determined to help. We vowed to provide him with a platinum grade reputation management service – a talented team of truly motivated individuals working around the clock to reverse the damage suffered online. We would develop and implement a progressive strategy that would deliver sustainable results, supported by our proprietary software, which would help kick the campaign into overdrive.
The client was apprehensive. The reaction was familiar – Why was all of this necessary? How did it come to this? None of what has been written is even true!
A Downward Spiral
A writer for a highly credible news agency got the story wrong. The more viral it became, the more believable it was and the more damage it did. The client faced an uphill battle against an onslaught of high-profile press built on a foundation of inaccurate and narrow-minded information. Having been the subject matter in headlines of major news publications (ABC News, Fox, Washington Times), the online reputation for this client suffered immensely. While not only embarrassing him, the online publications that flooded his search results threatened his livelihood and the long-term success of his business. He had a lot to lose.
If You Are Innocent, Why Not Just Contact The Author?
If a writer publishes an offensive article about you that is blatantly false, there is a natural urge to contact them and demand a correction, attempt to discredit the author, or perhaps even slap a lawsuit on the publisher. Depending on the individual and the nature of the story, this may or may not be an option. In most cases, reaching out to an author is not worth the risk. You are at the mercy of an author with preconceived notions, there is no guarantee anything gets changed, and you open yourself up to additional criticism (see “Don’t Take The Bait”). Approaching them could easily backfire and result in more bad press – thus making the situation worse.
In this particular case, the story was proven wrong and, through communication with various individuals, the author agreed to place a corrective note on the original article. However, it provided little vindication, as it did nothing to fix the dozens of syndicated articles that indexed in Google. Copies of the original, uncorrected, article plagued the Internet. Anyone searching for our client or his company came across them readily. Despite doing nothing wrong, our client’s legacy was dismantled.
Couldn’t We Report The Material To Google And Have It Removed?
Although it’s nearly impossible to locate and flag all copies/mentions of inappropriate material, stating your case to Google is certainly an option. However, history has shown that even if an individual wanted to endure the aforementioned process, freedom of speech is usually the trump card. Google rarely removes subjective material from their index unless there are legal grounds for doing so. It isn’t in the best interest of most individuals to get involved in legal battles that would draw additional attention.
Fact: Good Guys Need Reputation Management
What we came to find is that our client is a remarkable human being – a loving family man, a successful and well-liked businessman, and a dedicated philanthropic leader. However, unless you were in his close circle, you would never catch wind of it. The client was humble, never jumped into the spotlight, and always shied away from praise. For all intents and purposes, the client had no online footprint – no representation at all until a stranger with leverage decided to write his story for him, overpopulating the search results with false, defaming content. This was crippling to our client and this was our starting point.
We believe everyone is entitled to fair representation. As easily as it was for a stranger to publish false information about our client and skew public perception, it was only fair that our client be able to defend himself against the attack messaging by telling his side of the story. However, as humble as our client was, he didn’t want any positive information about him published. Despite the slew of attacks he encountered, he wanted to remain silent. His hope was that we could get the negative material removed and he could go back to having a quiet online presence. Simply put, it was all a big nightmare for him and he just wanted it to end. However, we are not in the business of removing material from Google and, unfortunately, this author had ruined any hopes of our client maintaining a quiet web presence.
The “event” was the hand that forced our client to defend himself through proactive reputation management techniques.
As for our technique, this was a highly sensitive subject and very troubling for our client to deal with. To ease his mind, we assured him that all of our work is within Google guidelines and accompanied with little to no risk. We would merely aim to provide Google with content that would satisfy a user search query better than competing forces – capable of earning it a higher rank. In this case, we needed to provide users with information about our client that would be more valuable to them than the negative attack messaging, so that Google would move our preferred content up and the negative content down in the search results.
Since the public was actively scrutinizing our client, the key aspect of the campaign was performing all of our work discretely, using a grass-roots approach performed behind the scenes so that no eyebrows were raised. This simply meant that we would not do anything to put our client in jeopardy. Our pace was steady and not overly ambitious. We integrated ourselves into the daily activities of the client, worked seamlessly with the client’s internal team, and advised on where, when and how to publish information to ensure Google would take note of it.
When the client came on board, the attack messaging was gaining momentum – full throttle. At the time of our first conversation, we took a snapshot of the client’s top Google search results. When searching his name, 50% of the top 10 content was positive, 30% was negative. However, we knew that was just the beginning. Lurking just outside the top 10 results was an arsenal of additional negative content with a full head of steam. This could technically be considered the beginning of the campaign where we first started rewriting his digital footprint. However, as mentioned previously, in the beginning the client was very humble and hesitant to have any preferred content published. He feared it would appear self-serving. As such, we operated with minimal resources. As expected, the situation proceeded to get worse over the next several weeks.
The client’s online reputation hit an all-time low – 60% of the top 10 Google search results were negative, only 20% positive. In total, 13 of the first 20 articles were negative.
When the search landscape hit an all-time low, the client agreed to let us take a more aggressive approach. We were green-lighted to leverage whatever resources we needed to address the problem. Again, we assured the client that a full-throttle approach did not mean that discretion or integrity were to be sacrificed. We continued to work within Google guidelines using best practice techniques. A more aggressive approach just meant bringing attention to, and earning visibility for, the infinite number of positive activities our client took part in and in a way that would help expedite the process. Convincing our client to be a little less humble and to help himself take control of his online reputation was arguably the biggest hurdle we had to overcome. The client was simply too nice. Of course, his unwavering dedication to helping others before helping himself was also the high-octane fuel that drove us to want to help him so urgently.
We consider this moment of flexibility several weeks into the campaign when the results hit an all-time low to be the turning point (benchmark, theoretical “start date”) where we were able to fully deploy our strategy. With confidence, we can say that within just one month, the online conversation started to change direction. Below are a pair of charts demonstrating the progress of the campaign over time.
We worked very closely with the client, his team members and his friends to earn him positive placements within the upper Google search results using a combination of on- and off-page optimization strategies that resulted in web, content and social development.
We successfully fostered hundreds of online relationships on the client’s behalf and it became evident over time that what we were doing was working. Within a few months, the amount of negative content in the Google upper search results had subsided to between 20-30% while positive content increased to 50-70%. Furthermore, the most important results, the top 5, were all positive. Since the majority of organic traffic is divided between the top 3 results, this proved to be a milestone achievement.
Client Name – Historical Rank
Our campaign continued to build on that success. About 1 year into the campaign, the top 10 results were completely free of negative material. Since roughly 95% of users don’t click past the first page of the Google search results, the client was reassured that most users wouldn’t see the negative content – only the select few that were specifically searching for it.
The top 10 search results were cleared of all negative content in the first twelve months and have remained consistently between 90-100% positive and void of negative material since. 80-85% of the top 20 was occupied by positive content while the last remnants of negative content continued to trend downward on page 2 of the rankings.
Similar trends were seen in the other search queries we were servicing on behalf of the client. Below are graphs demonstrating success with his company’s branded search results as well as the results for broader keyword variations (i.e. his name followed by variations of the company name).
Our service provided residual benefit across a variety of other relevant search queries. To clarify, we were not under contract to service these broader keyword variations. However, improvements within these other search queries were a natural byproduct of the work we were performing under contract.
Client Name + Brand Name (Variation 1)
Client Name + Brand Name (Variation 2)
One of the most authoritative web properties typically ranking among the upper echelon of an individual’s or brand’s Google search results is a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia excerpts are also referenced in various aspects of the Google knowledge graph – making it even more imperative that the integrity of the page is preserved. We helped our client take control of his Wikipedia presence and it continues to stand the test of time. It serves as an important online reference, prominently displayed in the Google search results and accessible by users through multiple channels.
Over time, the client gained trust and confidence in us. As the relationship evolved, we needed less and less approval on items and began working more autonomously. Upon expiration of the original contract, the client opted to extend the length of the contract and expanded the scope of the project.
It only takes one person with an Internet connection to impact your online reputation. A proactive approach to managing your online reputation can prove largely successful in protecting your livelihood and overall success – much like an insurance policy. Everyone is entitled to fair representation on the Internet. Investing in a firm that can strategically reveal your true colors online, where it’s needed most, can provide exponential returns and immunity against subsequent threats.